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A tale of two coffee cups
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Commentary: A tale of two (coffee) cups

“I was upset that you’re tacky. I don’t care about your bad taste in coffee,” wrote one reviewer.

“Best coffee in Southern California. Not shameful like the place next door,” said another.

I was surprised to read such loaded comments while thumbing through Oceanside coffee shops on Yelp. That ‘shameful’ shop happens to be Revolution Roasters, and while their brick-and-mortar debut occurred in 2015, neighborhood tensions continue to brew. Just two doors down is local-incumbent Captain’s Grounds Coffee, which opened eight years prior.

But in a world where two Starbucks occupy every corner, isn’t a little competition expected? The resistance to Revolution Roasters supersedes coffee. The sourness belies a deeper narrative: a schism between “locals only” and change-bringing “outsiders.”

To some, Revolution is a lure for gentrifying yuppies; evidence that Oceanside is fighting for its sense of place.

I decided to visit the oldest coffee shop in Oceanside, Cafe 101. Opened in 1928, the walls are furnished with vintage photos of a sparser Oceanside — before “gentrification” had been conceived. In a phone interview, I caught up with John Daley, a prior manager and leading member of the Oceanside Historical Society.

Despite being first on the block, John claims he “never felt resentment toward the growing Oceanside restaurant scene.” Instead, John saw the growth as a collective draw for more customers.

Even now Daley felt his hometown is overdue for an upgrade — referring to Oceanside’s 133-year-old pier and 65-year-old community center as “miracles.”

“Some say Oceanside isn’t the way it used to be. Well, nothing is,” Daley said.

While under new management, Cafe 101’s coffee is still a two-cream-two-sugar shot of nostalgia. As I sat in the 50s-style booth, I thought of the coffee shop Cafe 101 fended off in its nine-decade tenure.

Spotify played alt-rock despite the coin-operated jukeboxes. A fisherman in a 117-year-old photo watched me pay my QR-code bill. Cafe 101 seemed to have evolved; why not Oceanside as a whole?

“Local” is mentioned in less than 25% of Captain’s Grounds customer reviews, yet less than 1% of Revolution Roasters’ reviews. The difference is seen in person. A hand-painted yellow sign reading ‘local coffee’ points toward Captain’s, reminding patrons that coffee from elsewhere (next door at Revolution, perhaps?) is an act of Oceanside treason. In general, there are positive associations with ‘local’; in business, it’s synonymous with honesty, community and quality.

To some degree, COVID-19 has revived local business appeal, as consumers experience the pain of kinked global supply chains. Recent Oceanside polling reinforces this preference. Yet, despite Encinitas owners, Revolution is seen as an outsider. It’s unclear by what criteria (or whose judgment) would any new business magically morph into a local one.

The most frequent gauge of ‘local’ seems to be years lived in the community, but how much water does that hold considering we’re all living on land originally home to the Shoshone Tribe? Local pride should not come at the expense of inclusion, which, after all, is one of the four core values of Oceanside residents.

Perhaps “local” shouldn’t be a measurement of time, but instead by mindset.

A “local” could be anyone who embodies the values of a community — regardless of time-in-seat — while appreciating its history. If “respect” is one of those values, a stronger argument could be built against Revolution than simply not being here for long.

It’s certainly not very neighborly to choke out the business next door, and there’s no way it could be symbiotic…or could it?

Six years and a small-business-executing pandemic later, Revolution and Captains are both still standing. If ever there was a time to close the doors it was now.

For the same reason gas stations and fast-food chains are found side by side, there’s likely a net benefit for Captains and Revolution to cluster. For the same reason gas stations and fast-food chains are found side by side, there’s likely a net benefit for Captains and Revolution to cluster. The rising tide raises all ships, as the saying goes, but Captain’s customers still see Revolution as an invasive anchor.

In 1964, city planner Ruth Glass coined “gentrification” to describe the displacement of the working-class from the North-London neighborhood of Islington. Following World War II Islington had lost its shine, but its affordable prices and diverse community triggered an influx of middle-class intellectuals.

The result was a now-familiar phenomenon: a rise in housing prices and the expulsion of “most of the working-class occupiers,” per Glass. But displacement and gentrification, while related, are distinct. With thoughtful policy, communities can benefit from gentrification and minimize displacement.

The capital investment gentrification represents can resurrect a community. Increased property values can enable residents to build wealth in a way that improves economic mobility.

Central to many local gentrification discussions is Onward Oceanside, a long-range urban development plan intended to update the city’s General Plan, which is updated every ten years by state law.

The project aims to redefine the city’s “sense of place,” says Russ Cunningham, Principal City Planner of Oceanside. To benchmark community values, Russ and his team distributed surveys and hosted hundreds of conversations and community meetings.

Per the Community Vision, “two-thirds of comments related to development were apprehensive or outright opposed to any new construction, and many wanted to see Oceanside preserved as it is today.”

Cunningham empathizes with the feedback. “Change is hard,” he says. “As a kid growing up in Ventura, I watched orchards and row crop fields get replaced with housing. I hated seeing this, but of course, I had no concept of the economic challenges facing the farming community, the need to provide housing options.”

I was curious what ‘character’ Oceanside residents were defending. While social equity is one of four core values identified through Onward Oceanside, when asked, Cunningham mentioned this was a topic which he rarely hears from the public.

“I’ll say that those who are actively arguing against change rarely do so from an inclusive point of view. The focus tends to be on property values, traffic, noise, aesthetics, and open space. I hear little about how change might be forcing out low-income residents and burdening them with excessive housing costs.”

The city is helping low-income and minority populations with “rent control, exclusionary standards, affordable housing projects, and density bonus projects,” Cunningham notes, but it’s “still not enough.” Many are realizing great gains through Oceanside’s gentrification. For others, the threat of displacement still looms large.

If it feels like you can buy coffee anywhere, it’s because you can. Last year, coffee shops accounted for 11% of all US brick-and-mortar spaces. And yet, despite java’s ubiquity, I still find myself attracted to certain cafes.

We can obtain McDonald’s coffee for $1.29, but we return to our favorite coffee shop because we connect with it – it offers a sense of place. In 1900, a city couldn’t incorporate unless it had a post office.

Perhaps the modern-day analog is the corner coffee shop — a core component of a city’s sense of place. I’d argue an affront on a local coffee shop like Captain’s Grounds goes beyond the shop’s walls, to strike our notions of community, collective identity, and even ourselves.

It’s difficult to see an influx of new residents ratcheting up prices and threatening local culture. I question whether the expression of that fear in the form of an angry Yelp review is constructive. The battle between Captains and Revolution is a gentrification proxy war.

Oceanside residents are better off redirecting fire toward policy. No amount of anger toward Revolution Roasters or the next newcomers will stop Oceanside’s evolution. Preserving Oceanside doesn’t mean locking the city in stasis; it means protecting the minority and low-income communities most at risk of displacement. Their already quiet voices are being drowned out by coffee shop shouting matches.

Reed Campbell

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